E ditor's note: First Bite is a new concept in restaurant writing. This is not a go-three-times, try-everything-on-the-menu report; rather, this is a quick snapshot of a single experience. We invite you to come along with our writers as they—informed, intelligent eaters like yourselves—have a simple meal at an area restaurant, just like you do.
Restaurant Eloise, Sebastopol's newest addition to high-end dining, is named after the adventurous and somewhat naughty little girl in Kay Thompson's children's books. Eloise travels from New York to Paris, and diners here will vicariously follow in her footsteps. Chefs and owners Eric Korsh and Ginevra Iverson, previously of New York, have established themselves in the comfortable and simple space on busy Gravenstein Highway that previously housed Chez Peyo and Bistro V. With a bright white interior and sparse decorations, the main dining room and its staff welcome diners with a relaxed yet professional air.
Perusing the menu, two things immediately stand out: the eclectic offerings and the extremely high prices. Offered as starters are sweetbreads ($14), headcheese and veal tongue on a charcuterie plate ($20) and bone marrow ($14). I was tempted to try the tall, roasted marrow bones, but the other diners at my table were not enticed into sharing this rich dish. Instead, we started with the amuse-bouche, three small, crisp toasts smeared with a delicious three liver pâté (rabbit, duck and guinea hen).
We followed with a highly recommended—and, I'm afraid, highly overrated—spotted shrimp appetizer ($14). Three hot, whole prawns, one as big as my hand, were wrested out of their shells to yield, well, three very small portions of meat. Perhaps if we were as truly adventurous as Eloise, we would have eaten more than the usual shrimp meat, but instead we washed our hands of it in the fingerbowl provided. By this time, I had finished my first glass of wine, notable only because I am known for nursing one glass of an average pour through an entire meal.
My husband and I each ordered a second glass from the 32 available on the wine list, and moved on to the main courses. The vegetarian at the table hungrily dove into one of two vegetarian offerings (the other being a yummy-sounding French red lentil soup with feta for $9), the ricotta and chard gnocchi ($19). Served in a deep bowl, these tender little pillows had a consistency more reminiscent of ravioli, rather than the usual density of potato gnocchi. Heavily dressed with a brown butter and sage sauce, the flavors popped once salt was added.
Conversely, the small pot of cassoulet ($33), France's signature dish, was overly salty. A rich blend of fall-off-the-bone confit duck leg, large coins of spicy beef and garlic sausage, a small slab of pork belly, tarbais beans imported from France (perhaps explaining the hefty over-pricing for country fare) and spices, the cassoulet was a satisfying dish for a cold fall evening.
The three of us split dessert, Baba Rum ($9), a pound cake&–like brioche served with a spoonful of sweet Chantilly cream and a small pitcher of warmed rum to pour over it. The meal was enjoyable and the service excellent, but the final tab, $160 (before tip) for two adults and a child, put Eloise in the "special occasion" category rather than the "favorite local eatery" one. Perhaps the lunch special, three courses for $25, including a daily appetizer, dessert and a glass of wine or nonalcoholic beverage, would be a more wallet-friendly way to enjoy Restaurant Eloise in these tough economic times.
Restaurant Eloise, 2295 Gravenstein Hwy. S., Sebastopol. Open for lunch, Tuesday&–Saturday; dinner, Monday&–Saturday. 707.823.6300.